Founded Mabel Mercer Foundation and Produced Cabaret Conventions


Donald Smith - photo: Heather Sullivan

Donald Smith, Founder and Executive Director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation passed away peacefully on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. He died at the Jewish Home Lifecare Center in Manhattan. He had been in declining health for several months.

In 1989, he produced the first series of sold out Cabaret Conventions that would be held at Town Hall for many years before moving to Jazz At Lincoln Center. Mr. Smith's goal, through the foundation included perpetuating the memory of his revered, late friend and influential legendary singer Mabel Mercer as well as to preserve all aspects of the American songbook. He had worked for two decades with Ms. Mercer as a close friend, professional manager and publicist.

Donald Smith, a native of Massachusetts, was a part of the cabaret world for over 45 years. And his accomplishments were impressive. Aside from Mabel Mercer, he managed, promoted, and nurtured the careers of several renowned, highly acclaimed artists including: Michael Feinstein, Andrea Marcovicci and Steve Ross. In one capacity or another, he also represented Jeff Harnar, Craig Rubano, Julie Wilson, Margaret Whiting, Sylvia Syms and KT Sullivan. Per his wishes, Ms. Sullivan will take over as Artistic Director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation.

With Donald Smith as Executive Director over the years, The Mercer Foundation presented the annual, week-long Cabaret Convention for the past fourteen years, selling out New York’s Town Hall and showcasing well over an unprecedented eleven hundred singers and entertainers since 1989. The 2003 program elicited ticket orders from thirty-seven states and six foreign countries. The fifteenth convention played from October 18-24, 2004; one of its highlights was an event cited simply as “Family,” in which the actual family members and relatives of well-known cabaret performers gathered onstage for a demonstration of their musical heritage across the generations.

Additionally, Mr. Smith oversaw The Mabel Mercer Foundation produce Cabaret Conventions on three occasions in San Francisco, two engagements in Chicago, and events in Palm Springs, Philadelphia, and Washington, D. C. In February 2004, they debuted the premiere London Cabaret Convention at The Greenwich Theatre as the gala finale of a two-week Musical Voices “celebration of the singing voice in all its forms.” Later in the year, they returned to East Hampton for their second annual appearance on Long Island. The signal success of The Foundation recently won them the sobriquet “American song’s best friend” from The San Francisco Chronicle. Other events produced by Mr. Smith through The Mabel Mercer Foundation include, the one-hundredth birthday anniversary celebration of Noel Coward, Mad About the Boy, which jammed New York’s Carnegie Hall to capacity in December, 1999. They also began a Young People’s Series to introduce the great classic popular songbook to new audiences. In recent years, Mr. Smith’s long term goals for the organization focused on the establishment of a Mabel Mercer Foundation Center, which would provide both a permanent home for their activities and free or low-cost rehearsal and varied performance spaces for cabaret entertainers. Such a Center would offer as well a musical library and archive, listening rooms, and exhibition areas. As The Foundation’s Executive Director, Donald Smith also developed a film and series of television programs on the world of cabaret as it exists today. He said, “This music is a part of America’s great heritage,” he proclaims. “It must be heard!”

On a personal note, I had many dealings with Don Smith over the years. Whenever I wrote an article about cabaret, he was one of the first I would call on for a comment to quote, Without missing a beat, he immediately launched into practical, wise words of wisdom that always made sense about his passion for cabaret and preserving its history. He also regaled in many stories of famous friends and their foibles such as the late nightclub impresario Ted Hook who was a colorful restaurateur – and practical joker.

The cabaret world will have to work hard to fill his shoes. While others talked, he did.

John Hoglund